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December 17, 2013 12:47 PM   Subscribe

The #1 item on my eight year-old son's Christmas list is "AN ACTUAL PENGUIN". Please help me creatively accommodate his request without violating the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Wee Thumbscrew has been obsessed with penguins for quite some time... so much so that he added one to his Christmas list. While I could just strategically ignore his request, I'd like to at least TRY to fulfill it. My question(s):

- The Adventure Aquarium and the Philadelphia Zoo both have expensive-ish "behind the scenes with the penguins!" packages. Would this be a good idea for an eight year-old? Have you ever done anything like this, and if so, how was it?

- Do you know of any similar (and non-exploitative, naturally) programs involving penguins?

- If the Hive decides "HELL to the NO on the in-person penguin-ing", how ELSE might I fulfill my kid's penguin request?

Possibly Helpful Info: Wee Thumbscrew is fairly bright and mature for his age. He is non-hyper and gentle with animals. I don't mind traveling or going to other lengths to fulfill this request.
posted by julthumbscrew to Shopping (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Would adopting a penguin either in the wild or at a zoo suffice? It looks like a few places run those kinds of programs.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:50 PM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Seconding the adopt-a-penguin approach, and recommending you do it pre-Christmas along with a frank explanation that AN ACTUAL PENGUIN cannot be kept as a pet because of laws and because it's not good for the penguins, but that he can actually help the penguins he loves so much by giving money to help care for one. Preferably out of his allowance. Do that, but then do the behind-the-scenes part (if you can afford it) as the Christmas present.
posted by davejay at 12:55 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You could make a little trip out of it - the Baltimore Zoo does a 'Breakfast with Penguins,' they do it a couple of times a year. My sister went to one last year and had a ball.
posted by troika at 12:55 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I did a behind the scenes with beluga whales at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium which also does a behind the scenes with penguins. I'm taking the nephew very soon. The Shedd limits groups size to very small groups, so your interaction is actually meaningful. At the Shedd, you're in the habitat (albeit not the one that the other visitors are looking into) and you get to touch the animals (under close supervision, of course) Obviously, I don't know the particulars of your local program, but this was seriously one of the best gifts I ever received, and I think an 8 year old would love it.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:59 PM on December 17, 2013

I totally second the behind-the-scenes gift. This is a great opportunity for him to consider wildlife manager jobs, but also to see just how hard it is to house a penguin (and how stinky they are).

My family likes to give gifts like this accompanied by a book. This one might be good, as it also emphasizes what a pain it is to have a penguin in the house. On the other hand, it might make him want 365 penguins.
posted by Capri at 1:02 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do the zoos you mentioned that have the 'Behind the Scenes With Penguins' also offer sponsorship or adoption of their resident penguins? You could, potentially, adopt a penguin in his name, and then he may be able to interact with it with the "Behind the Scenes" deal. It would get him as close as possible to actually owning a penguin yet educate him on why the penguins have to stay in the zoo (or arctic) and why they can't be pets like a dog or cat.

A cute little stocking stuffer could be a little Gunter plushie (assuming he's familiar with Adventure Time and the little penguin in it named Gunter) -- found on ebay or easy patterns to make your own can be found with a quick search.

But as far as coming as close to possible to an actual penguin, I think the zoo visit is your best bet.
posted by stubbehtail at 1:06 PM on December 17, 2013

Best answer: We did an overnight sleepover at the Baltimore Aquarium when we were six (in part because I kept asking for a seal-- I grew up a block from a zoo, so just visiting them wasn't cutting it) and it remains one of the highlights of my childhood. The Zoo does indeed have a combo Adopt a Penguin/Behind the Scenes experience kit, though you might want to call and confirm the details on whether it differs from their other packages. If he's interested at all in being a zookeeper or an animal keeper, maybe there's a way to arrange a talk or find a scheduled one too?
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:11 PM on December 17, 2013

As a follow-up to "You can't keep an actual penguin because of laws," it might be entertaining to discuss what laws he would enact, if he were in charge of things.
posted by Etrigan at 1:14 PM on December 17, 2013

Please tell me he's already read "Mr Popper's Penguins".
posted by DanSachs at 1:23 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mystic Aquarium in CT offers of a good description of what you get with their program. Minimum age is six. They also sell penguin footprint art online.

I have done a "behind the scenes with penguins" with a nine year old of similar obsession and temperament to yours. (It was through this exhibit, which is over.) There was no penguin-touching in that program but she got really close, and had a blast.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:37 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you come to Pittsburgh and visit the National Aviary, you can hang out with a penguin while it paints a picture. You get to pick the colors and keep the painting. Might be fun? Am unsure of artistic merit of said penguin art.
posted by Stacey at 1:46 PM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

After he has an awesome penguin experience at the zoo or whatever you decide to do, you could explore with him why a penguin wouldn't make a very good pet. Most species of penguin are pretty darn noisy and they consume hundreds of pounds of food. After eating said food, they tend to produce, sometimes explosively, large quantities of penguin guano, which quickly makes a mess. They are also social creatures, so you'd want two dozen or so instead of just one, meaning a lot more noise, food, and penguin poop. And then there's the whole climate thing... It might be an interesting exercise for him to think about why the penguins have to stay where they are and what kinds of habitat needs different animals have.
posted by zachlipton at 1:57 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't have any leads, but I thought your son might appreciate this story: I was at a cocktail party in California several years ago and to entertain us they had animals from sort of animal ambassador program at SeaWorld (I THINK, although I can't find any information about the program on their site now). A lemur, a huge snake and a penguin, among other animals, had traveled from Florida to be there. It was amazing. We learned that the penguin gets his own seat on the plane AND stays in a hotel room with his handler. He sleeps in the bathroom and she sleeps in the bed.
posted by kate blank at 2:30 PM on December 17, 2013

Best answer: Also, you can also get very accurate penguin figurines and soft toys if you search by the specific species names. I had a life-sized emperor penguin soft toy as a kid that my dad bought at a zoo shop and it was very realistic and much-loved. And for his stocking, a tube of penguins! if he doesn't already have them.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:25 PM on December 17, 2013

Like Stacey said! The Aviary has a bunch of penguins and their art is super cute. I think "adopting" a penguin + a copy of Mr. Popper's Penguins is a really cool idea.

Additionally, the Pittsburgh Zoo also has penguins (plus a polar bear!) so you could really pack in the penguins fun.

Plus, since the hockey team is literally "the Penguins", there's also a ton of related gear and shirts and stuff.
posted by amicamentis at 5:52 AM on December 18, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I will be getting him a "Behind the Scenes" penguin encounter at the Philadelphia Zoo, and maaaaaaybe, if that goes well, I'll consider springing for "Breakfast With Penguins" for his birthday later this year. He's gonna be delighted, I know it.
posted by julthumbscrew at 6:36 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: An update: Wee Thumbscrew had his penguin-visit a few weeks ago. He was practically vibrating apart with excitement for weeks beforehand; the actual visit itself blew his little mind. Afterwards, he kept repeating, "THIS WAS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!" As you can see, this was some REALLY. REALLY. GOOD. AskMe advice. Thanks so much, guys!
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:19 AM on February 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

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